Council-led project helps free up much-needed hospital beds

By Cllr Richard Kerry | 09 April 2020

An East Suffolk Council-led project, Stepping Home, is helping speed up the discharge of vulnerable patients from hospitals across Suffolk at a time when healthcare services are under unprecedented pressure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Stepping Home project is a multi-agency partnership between councils and hospitals in Suffolk, the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), housing associations and charities. It enables us to link health and housing provision in a new and important way; both have a significant impact on the other.

Currently funded as a pilot by the CCGs, Stepping Home supports patients who no longer need medical care but cannot be discharged due to issues with housing or social needs. It is not uncommon for such patients to be ‘stuck’ and unable to return home for several days or even weeks, leaving them in hospital at risk of infection, loss of confidence and subsequently unable to carry out simple tasks at home like preparing a meal.

Medical staff simply do not have the time to find solutions that would work for each individual patient – so this is where Stepping Home comes in. Our team works to solve any issues that arise at the end of the medical journey - arranging temporary accommodation or carrying out urgent repairs in patient’s homes. The service also extends to people in the community who are at risk of hospitalisation and works to prevent this.

Some patients are able to stay in ‘halfway home hubs’ whilst solutions are implemented. The hubs are a temporary home, which are not in a medical setting. Sourced through Anchor Hanover and Orbit Housing Associations, they free up much-needed hospital beds and cost around £45 daily; considerably less than a hospital bed at £250 or more.

Ipswich and West Suffolk Hospitals have found the project essential to support their work.

Linked to our COVID-19 response, we supported an elderly lady who, due to a stroke, needs care three times a day. Whilst she was still in hospital, we fitted a key safe in her home as she has no family to help. This meant she could be discharged from hospital immediately as carers were able to access her home and support her.

Another patient was unable to enter his home due to a large step by his front door. Our team installed a temporary ramp so he could be discharged, while a permanent solution is being explored.

Each case is different, but all have a big impact on when patients can be discharged. Due to the wonderful network of partners we have built in Suffolk, we are able to help with most things, big or small! This has never been more important as it helps increase patient flow to meet the stringent new discharge timescales and makes a real difference to vulnerable patients at such a difficult and challenging time in our lives.

Cllr Richard Kerry is cabinet member for housing at East Suffolk Council

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